Glitzy, glamorous ISL promises new beginning for Indian soccer
Kolkata: Proclaimed a game-changer and perhaps the most star-studded event ever in the history of Indian football featuring retired giants of the game, the ISL will kick off here tomorrow aiming to give a fresh lease of life to the global sport in a country which has been called a “sleeping giant” by FIFA.
Ranked 158th in the world, Indian football is not exactly in the pink of health but with a bit of help from former World Cup winners, some big Bollywood stars and a dash of cricket to it, the Indian Super League would be looking to draw the fans and raise the profile of the ‘beautiful game’ in a nation obsessed with cricket.
The tournament features five World Cup winners and Brazilian legend Zico, as coach, and that has been the one big factor in generating the buzz around the glitzy league.
All the marquee players are past their prime and are discards of European leagues — David James of Kerala Blasters is the oldest at 44 — but the event has generated worldwide attention.
Add to this the host of Bollywood celebrities, Indian cricketers — including the iconic Sachin Tendulkar — and business magnates who have co-owned various teams, and it appears to have all the ingredients needed for a blockbuster recipe.
There are, however, detractors who have questioned how the Indian footballers will benefit from the 10-week league which has a six-five foreigners-domestic ratio and whether the new teams will able to gain fan bases like the traditional powerhouses East Bengal, Mohun Bagan or the Goan and North-East clubs.
A grand Bollywood-style opening ceremony is planned ahead of the inaugural match-up between city franchise Atletico de Kolkata and Mumbai City FC. The league will then spread to seven other centers of Guwahati, Kochi, Fatorda, Pune, Chennai Mumbai and Delhi before the final on December 20.
On paper, the Ranbir Kapoor co-owned Mumbai City FC appear to be the heavyweights with the mercurial Frenchman Nicolas Anelka and Swede Fredrik Ljungberg along with acclaimed domestic players like India no 1 goalkeeper Subrata Pal, experienced side-back Syed Rahim Nabi and the spirited medio Lalrindika Ralte.
Mumbai City FC have some English flavour in the coaching staff with former Manchester City and Sunderland manager Peter Reid and his deputy Stee Darby, relatively known figure in domestic football.